Governor Quinn brings Diane Ravitch to Chicago

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Diane Ravitch
  • Diane Ravitch
For many years, Chicago's been ground zero for what passes as school reform—bashing teachers, busting teacher unions, doling out millions to the mayor’s charter school cronies and forcing kids to take one high-stakes standardized test after another.

And for much of that time, the sharpest voice of opposition to all those things on the national level has been education historian Diane Ravitch.

Well, last week, Ravitch flew in from New York City, marched into the City Club and told the lunchtime crowd that everything they'd been hearing about school reform in Chicago was basically a big old lie . . .

Nonunion charter schools don't outscore unionized public ones. Beating up teachers won't do much except turn people away from teaching as a career. Poverty, not "bad" teachers, is the single greatest determination of how children perform in school. And if we truly want to eradicate the educational disparities between our wealthiest and poorest communities then we've got to make some serious investments in everything from preschool to arts curriculum to better prenatal health care, etc.

Oh yes, and stop wasting so much time and money on those stupid standardized tests. Or as Ravitch put it: "In schools for the rich, children get taught. In schools for the poor, children get tested."

That pretty much sums it all up.

Unfortunately, the man who most needed to hear her speech was noticeably absent. That would be my dear friend Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who's in charge of the Chicago Public Schools no matter who holds the title of CEO.

Here's the WBEZ link to the speech, Mr. Mayor, just in case you're interested.

In contrast, Governor Pat Quinn gave Ravitch a glowing introduction as "the preeminent expert on education" and "one of the best we have in America."

Moreover, the governor also invited Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to sit at his table, saying: “I’d like to salute the master teacher in chemistry—Karen Lewis." (Lewis was a high school chemistry teacher before she was elected union president.)

That's a much different greeting than the F-bomb the mayor dropped on Lewis the last time they met, back in the summer of 2011.

Hey, Mr. Mayor: how long you gonna hold the grudge?

It was such a warm endorsement of two women who represent the opposite of Mayor Rahm’s education ideology that I wondered: was Governor Quinn sending a not-so-subtle message to the mayor to back off on the charters, testing and teacher bashing?

At the very least, was he just needling him?

I checked in with Brooke Anderson, the governor's press secretary, and she assured me that Quinn was not needling the mayor.

"The governor is a big fan of Diane Ravitch—he has read her books and greatly admires her work," Anderson emailed. "He invited her to speak as she is one of the country's leading education experts."

And Karen Lewis?

"Karen is also a friend of the governor's and he encouraged her to attend."

Okay, Governor Quinn, if you say so.

In any event, a heartfelt thanks to the City Club for giving the great Diane Ravitch a high-profile venue to be so prominently heard.

If you get a visit from city building inspectors, you'll know the mayor was not pleased.

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